Friday, May 6, 2011

It's Too Bad that the F-22 is So Unnecessary

I’m out walking my dog when I hear a massive roar. As he stands in tripod precision, my gaze is directed upwards to view a stunning silver feat of engineering coast loftily only a few hundred feet above me, trailed by a spotter plane. It’s a test flight for a brand new F-22 Raptor.

I live underneath the airspace planes use for their final approach to Dobbins Air Force base, a defunct mile-and-a-half long airstrip in Marietta that hosts one of the largest buildings in Georgia: The Lockheed vehicle assembly building. In the early '90s, Lockheed won the contract to build its proposal for the next generation fighter jet. The tech-heavy plane is constructed in three separate locations, with the final assembly occurring in Marietta; then each one takes to the skies over Cobb County to ensure that it won’t crash over foreign territory.

Ordered by Congress in 1991, the jet entered service in 2005 and by 2009 there were 168 completed. As demonstrated in numerous air shows over the years, the jet can take off straight up, flying to nearly 12 miles up in the air, carries up to 12 deadly weapons, and has vectoring jet thrusters that allow it to make crazy sharp turns for better pilot blackout ability.

Each one cost as much as a huge multi-state lottery—about $150 million a piece—and the entire program cost American taxpayers about $65 billion. They were intended to be the worldwide-dominating fighter jet; the world’s most advanced flying machine.

However, the plane does have one major downfall.

It’s too advanced.

It’s actually so much more advanced than every other plane in the world that it’s not worth making. We already have other fighter jets that dominate the skies, and we’re currently building the F-35, another advanced fighter jet that costs a hell of a lot less to make.

In addition to this, its overly-complicated systems have proven dangerously flaky. During the very first combat deployment of Raptors headed toward Okinawa, Japan, a fleet of six crossed the International Date Line and their computers crashed as a result. All navigation and communication systems were lost, and they had to follow a refueling plane back to Hawaii without being able to talk to the tanker.

In fact, not one of these planes has ever fired a weapon in six years of official military use. Our battles have shifted back to ground warfare, and there’s not much need for air-to-air combat. If we need to drop bombs, we’ve got ten other planes that can do it better.

Just a few days ago, there was a problem discovered with the jet’s oxygen delivery system which grounded the entire fleet. Imagine flying the world’s most advanced airplane when you suddenly don’t have oxygen. Kind of important!

I feel sorry for the Raptor. It’s legitimately badass. I feel a bond for many of these jets as I’m sure I’ve watched dozens take their maiden flights. Even as Dobbins Air Force base was decommissioned, the Raptor kept Lockheed Marietta in business, employing 4,000 people in my community.

It’s too bad that the world’s greatest airplane turned out to be such a piece of crap, but we’re glad that the money was burned here.

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